Happier Opening Day

by the Night Writer

It was Opening Day for the new Twins ballpark today, and it sounds as if it was a great experience for everyone. I couldn’t be at the game, but I work a few blocks from the new stadium and got to watch the fly-over by the F-16s. I can recall a few fly-overs in the Dome days, but I think that was just because the Dome occasionally was on the flight path to the airport. We could hear the rumbles, though. Going home tonight I caught the light-rail and even though it was only about the 8th inning the train was packed with fans christening the new stadium by keeping up the Minnesota tradition of leaving early. The train smelled like a brewery, but it was nice to see all the sun-burned necks and faces (this outdoor baseball is going to take some getting used to, but I predict it will catch on.)

It was great to see that the Twins started the day off by unveiling the Kirby Puckett statue outside Gate 34 (the Twins numbered their gates after great Twins of the past). While I don’t think the statue looks much like Puck, he was the Face of the franchise. I hope — and maybe it has already happened — that the Twins do something appropriate for the man who was the Voice of the franchise: Herb Carneal.

Today I was remembering the Opening Days from 2005, 2006 and 2007. Out of some depressing coincidence, these openers came hard on the heels of the deaths of Puck (’06), Herb (’07) and long-time stadium announcer Bob Casey (’05). It also got me thinking about Ronnie Newman, the team organist who played “Take Me Out the Ballgame” for 1,775 straight home games and who died at the end of the ’03 season. Casey (I never heard him called “Bob”) and Ronnie had both been at Met Center and the Dome and I got to know them during my days as a Dome scoreboard operator.

Often when I was working I’d be on the same headset link with Casey. In between his announcements he usually kept up a profane, vitriolic and often apoplectic rant about anything and everthing that was annoying him that day. I thought for sure one day he’d slip and leave his microphone on during one of these but he never did. Nor did he ever have an aneurysm in mid-call, which I thought was sure to be his fate. Instead a double whammy of liver cancer and pneumonia (the latter he contracted in his lasts visit to Spring Training) did him in. One of his favorite foils was Ronnie, the ever-optimistic organist. They were friends, but Casey was always cracking jokes at Ronnie’s expense. Somehow the abuse just rolled off his back, though, and nothing ever seemed to change his smile or his demeanor. Ronnie was an unusual looking guy, short and about as wide as he was tall, and with a gravelly voice. He was as nice a guy as you’d ever want to meet, though I am ashamed to admit that I myself had a little fun at his expense one time. One night he came into the press box before the game wearing a bright blue and yellow plaid sportcoat that outshone the little yellow bulbs on the scoreboard.

“Hey, Ronnie,” I said, “nice coat.”

“Thanks!” he said, his perpetual smile getting even larger.

“Who’s couch died?”

“Aww…” and then that gravelly laugh.

Anyway, I’ve got tickets for an upcoming game, and will try to take in an afternoon game or two as the season goes on. I’m excited to see the new place and get a look at the new players in person, but there’ll always be something of the old place and the old guys sitting with me.

Btw, here are the pieces I wrote for Kirby and Herb when they passed.

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